In this day and age, with all of the transferring taking place across high school and college athletics, it’s good to see some longevity and loyalty.
To say that Eric Ringdahl has been coaching at Oak Hall School in Gainesville for a long time would be an understatement.
He’s long in the tooth and is clearly the dean of hoops coaches in Alachua County and the surrounding area.
Ringdahl, who will be 60 in May, joined the Oak Hall athletic program as an assistant for both the girls and boys basketball teams in 1990.
He began his first year as head coach of the girls basketball program during the 1992-93 season.
That means he has been serving as head coach of the Lady Eagles for over 30 years.
“I’m the old guy,” he said. “Pop’s (Eastside boys basketball coach Pop Williams) about my age but he started a little after I did, I guess. I used to be the young guy and now I’m the old guy.”
Williams, who is in his 27th season, won his 500th game in 2019. He also led the Rams to their first and only boys basketball state title in 2006.
Willie Powers, head coach of the P.K. Yonge girls basketball team, is not far behind with 22 years as head coach of the Lady Blue Wave.
Two years ago, Powers hit a milestone with his 500th career win.
His resume includes eight final four trips to Lakeland, two state championships and one State Runner Up finish, plus 18 district championships.
A few years ago Bob Horodyski stepped down after 27 seasons as head coach of the Buchholz boys basketball team. He was honored last night prior to the Bobcats’ win against rival Eastside.
And although he wasn’t at the same school the whole time, Kelly Beckham retired after 39 years, at Bronson and GHS, and with a total of 798 career wins.
The FHSAA Hall of Fame coach led Bronson to Class A state championship games in 1989 and 2002, finishing as state runner-up twice, and he led GHS to the Class 5A state title in his first year (2008-09).
Those are some of the long-time coaches in the area, but Ringdahl leads them all.
One of the unique things about Oak Hall School is that athletes get to play on varsity as early as their 6th-grade year, where strong bonds can be formed.
Ringdahl referenced the relationship he has with senior point guard Kate Pickens, who has played for Ringdahl since her 6th-grade year.
“We brought her up, it was at Keystone Heights,” Ringdahl remembered fondly.
Pickens scored 109 points last season. After scoring 19 points last night against the Wolves, she has 240 points this season for the Lady Eagles (12-6), who are currently 5-0 in Class 2A-District 4 but are ranked second in their district based on strength of schedule.
The senior leads the team in assists (3.5), and “the last 3-4 games she has led us in steals, and she also is usually our second, sometimes, third team leading rebounder.”
“She’s the brain, sometimes mine and hers don’t agree, but that happens,” Ringdahl said. “But we’ve been together a long time.”
The last time the Oak Hall girls won a district championship was 2015 when Ringdahl’s daughter, Katie, was a senior for the Lady Eagles. His daughter, Abbie, was a freshman on that team.
“We are really wanting to bring it back home this year,” Ringdahl said. “And the way that Kate is playing now and the way Mary (Pizzurro) played tonight (last night’s district win at St. Francis Catholic), if we can continue to have that, and throw in a healthy Bella (Dyrkolbotn), I think we’re going to be good to go.”
After tonight’s trip to Fort White (6 p.m.), and an away game on Tuesday at Lafayette (Mayo), Oak Hall closes out the regular season with a home game against Eastside next Thursday at 6 p.m.
“That’s our Senior Night,” Ringdahl said. “We’re saying goodbye to Kate Pickens, Sydney Miller (the area’s cross country runner of the year), and Frannie Perez. Those three have been together for a long time so it’s going to be a special time for them.”
Then it’s off to the district tournament the following week and a potential state playoff game on Valentine’s Day night.
Ringdahl is a little old-fashioned, as you would imagine. So his focus isn’t on a potential upcoming opponent in regional play, but rather his own team.
“Right there is my concern,” he said as he pointed to his locker room. “My concern is my 12. I know that you have to scout, and I do, and I will, but right now I’m not really concerned about that. I’m thinking about Fort White tomorrow (tonight) and then we’ll move to the next because I don’t want them looking ahead.”
The talent is certainly there for the Lady Eagles to end their district title drought, and Ringdahl is the long-toothed maestro who can get them there.